Keep cool without downing sweet drinks

Sugary summer drinks are nothing but empty calories. Check out these cool options for beating the summer heat


With summer here, many of us will be looking for ways to keep cool. Often that involves having a refreshing drink on a hot day, but to keep cool with drink in hand and health in mind, consider what’s in your cup.

It is surprising to see how much added sugar and calories are in some summer drinks. And research shows that the sugar and calories we consume in drinks do not help us to feel full, making it is easy to drink large quantities without realizing it.

Why is that a problem?
Sugar-sweetened drinks have been linked to weight gain and more recently, heart disease. Sugar is added to many drinks including sugar-sweetened pop, tonic water, energy drinks, sports drinks, lemonade, iced tea, vitamin-enhanced waters, coconut water, flavoured coffees and slushy drinks. With so many varieties of sugary drinks at our fingertips, the amount we drink can add up quickly. The global Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer report goes so far as to include a recommendation to avoid sugary drinks altogether.

How much is too much?
The current recommendation from the World Health Organization is to consume no more than 10 per cent of your daily calories as added sugar. Added sugar is the extra sugar put into food or drink when it is being made or processed. You can find out if sugar has been added to your food by looking at the ingredient list. When you look for it on the label, you may be surprised how many food and beverages contain added sugar.

How much added sugar does this mean?
This amount depends on your age and gender. For example, for an adult female who needs about 1,800 calories a day, the maximum amount of calories from added sugar is about 180 calories. This would equal 11 teaspoons of added sugar per day.

When you consider that this 10 per cent includes the sugar in drinks, it is very easy to reach or exceed that amount. For example, drinking one bottle (591 millilitres) of sweetened iced tea in your day gives you 13 teaspoons of added sugar.

Thus, a good way to reduce the amount of sugar you consume is by reducing the sugar in your drinks.

How do you do this?

Read the ingredient list to see if what you are about to drink has added sugar. Sugar is listed many different ways on an ingredient list. For example, it can be appear as: dextrose, fructose, glucose, syrup or fruit juice concentrate.

Then, on the next hot day or at your next summer function, take steps to cut back on sugar sweetened drinks:

  • Drink water, soda water or flavoured waters with little or no added sugar.
  • Add lemon, lime, orange or cucumber slices or sprigs of mint to make water extra tasty.
  • Choose plain brewed coffee or tea. Iced coffees and teas or frozen slushy ones often have added syrups.
  • If sugar-sweetened beverages are the only option, ask to have it made with half the syrup or choose the smallest size possible.

Karol Sekulic is a registered dietitian with Alberta Health Services who has expertise and interest in the areas of weight management, nutrition and communications.

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